The state’s 2016 Teacher of the Year is leaving Washington — and the U.S. altogether.

Nathan Gibbs-Bowling, a government and politics teacher at Lincoln High School in Tacoma, announced his departure on his website this week. He, along with his wife and fellow educator Hope Teague-Bowling, will leave the country after this school year for a new endeavor: teaching at the American Community School, an international school in Abu Dhabi.

“This move isn’t about Tacoma schools. It’s about the teaching profession and how it’s constructed in the United States, particularly in a low-income school,” Gibbs-Bowling said Tuesday. “My desire to do the job with excellence runs into capacity issues.”

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Gibbs-Bowling recently penned a guest essay for The Seattle Times Education Lab about the need to stop gatekeeping when it comes to advanced classes, like the AP government and human geography courses he teaches. Before that, he emceed our Ignite Education Lab event in March for the second time.

“The job of a teacher at Lincoln High School is way more complicated than teaching,” he said. “I’m a social worker, an emotional counselor, a career and college counselor, students-in-crisis counselor. I run a food pantry out of my cabinet. It’s not easy to do all that and remain excellent.”

In addition to being named Washington’s teacher of the year for 2016, Gibbs-Bowling was one of four finalists for that year’s National Teacher of the Year award. He also hosts a podcast about news, education and pop culture called the Nerd Farmer.


So what’s he going to miss most about teaching in Tacoma?

“My school and my students,” Gibbs-Bowling said. “I’m the football announcer. I’m gonna miss that. I read names at graduation. I’m gonna miss that. I’m not sure how I’m gonna get through reading names at graduation. For the first time I get to graduate with my students.”

As far as the choice to teach in Abu Dhabi, it wasn’t his nor his wife’s first choice. They were originally looking for opportunities in Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok, but the American Community School sought them out.

“Everything those areas had that we wanted, this school has too,” Gibbs-Bowling said. “It’s a school with a strong reputation and people who have taught there say almost universally positive things. I can focus on being a teacher and not have to wear 45 other hats.”

Gibbs-Bowling and his wife also wanted to be somewhere highly diverse, he said, and were interested in living in a majority-Muslim country.

“You’re not gonna keep transformative educators around given the list of conditions we have to work with,” he said. “And it’s not about money — it’s about the ability to feel like I can be successful.”